What Are You Up To? Meaning, Usage, and More
- By Matthew Jones
When speaking English with friends or acquaintances, youre bound to hear a lot of new English idioms. Native English speakers frequently use casual language in conversations, especially when it comes to greetings. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for non-native speakers to understand whats been said or answer with confidence. One question that often causes confusion is: what are you up to?
In todays guide, we are going to take a closer look at the meaning of what are you up to, provide example answers, as well as situations in which you can use the question. So, lets get started!
What are you up to meaning
In various cases, up to is an informal replacement for the word doing. Here are two common examples:
- Up to no good Doing something bad or having bad intentions.
- I think that man is up to no good. (I think that man is doing something bad)
- Up to something Doing something in secret, usually something bad.
- Whenever I cant find my dog, I know shes up to something. (Whenever I cant find my dog, I know shes doing something bad)
However, up to can have other meanings as well. For example:
- Up to (someone) Within a persons control; to be someones decision.
- I dont know which restaurant is better, so its up to you to decide.
- Its up to us to solve the problem.
- Up to (an activity) To meet a certain standard OR to be able/willing to take part in something.
- Hes not up to the task. (Hes not able to do it)Im not up to seeing my boss today. (Im not willing to see my boss today)
- Up to (level or number) Reaching or referencing a limit.
- They are allowed to take up to three weeks of vacation per year.
Fortunately, you dont have to memorize all of these usages to understand the meaning of what are you up to. Though it may sound strange to the untrained ear, what are you up to is actually pretty simple. It just means what are you doing. While they both mean the same thing, what are you up to is a little more casual, while what are you doing is a bit more formal.
Like most terms in English, what are you up to can mean different things based on your tone. For example, if you are suspicious of what someone is doing, you might ask the question with a stronger tone. Alternatively, if you just want to know what someone is doing (without any suspicion), you should use a friendlier tone.
Its also important to remember that what are you up to is a common greeting in English. Here are a few similar phrases to use when greeting someone:
- Whats up?
- What have you been up to?
- Whats happening?
- What do you have going on today?
- Whats new?
- What do you have planned?
- What are you doing today?
All of these examples offer slightly altered versions of what are you up to. As you can see, the phrase is pretty easy to use in everyday English conversation. However, it can feel a little more complicated when you need to answer the question.
What are you up to answers
Now that you know the meaning of the phrase, its time to figure out how to respond to it. What are you up to is a very open-ended question. Your answer could depend on your mood, your current activities, or even your relationship with the person speaking to you. That said, there are a few tried-and-true answers that will help you get your point across clearly.
If you want to express that youre not busy or you dont have any specific plans, you could say
- Not much.
- Nothing much.
- Just hanging out.
- Im just looking for something to do.
None of these answers provide a lot of details. So, if you want to keep the conversation going, you can add What about you? to the end of your answer. This will also show that youre interested in the other person and want to be friendly.
While many English speakers ask this question as a casual greeting, they may actually want to know what youre doing. As a result, the answers above wont really provide the right information. This means that youll need to give specific examples about your current activities. Keep in mind that what are you up to is rather vague. This gives you a lot more freedom to form your answer. You can talk about what you are generally doing in your life or what you are doing at the moment the question is asked. Here are a few sample answers:
- Im working on a project for school right now. Do you have a minute to help me?
- Ive been applying for new jobs. Do you know of any good openings?
- I want to spend more time with my family, so Im learning how to improve my time management. What about you?
- Im watching a new reality TV show. Do you want to join me?
While its not mandatory to finish your answer with a question, it is a great way to keep the conversation going. Moreover, providing a short answer to a friendly greeting like what are you up to may seem a little rude. When someone asks what you are up to, its often expected that you will answer and then ask them something in return.
On the other hand, you dont necessarily want to provide a long, detailed answer. Why? Because in most cases, the question is just a polite, casual way to say hello. People may get bored or even annoyed if you spend 20 minutes talking about everything thats going on in your life!
English can be a strange language sometimes. Phrases like what are you up to wont make much sense unless youre unfamiliar with casual greetings and the relevant idioms. Thankfully, its just a different way to ask what someone is doing specifically or more generally. So, now that you know what it means, you can start asking people what theyre up to and letting them know what youre up to as well!
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